I am a graduate of the Ecosystem Management Technology program at Fleming College and am currently undertaking a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science at Trent University. Despite my broad educational background, my dream has always been to work with animals from both an educational and medical standpoint, and taking on an internship with MARS has put me closer than I have ever been to achieving that goal.

In July of 2014, I travelled across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver on a 737, and from there took a little 20-seater from Vancouver to Comox, flying low over the gorgeous Strait of Georgia. At the Comox airport I met Maj, who was waiting with a huge “MOUNTAINAIRE AVIAN RESCUE SOCIETY” sign. It was at that moment I released a sigh of relief. I had been anticipating this internship since early spring and was ecstatic at being one of the selected. After waiting with bated breath for over half of the summer, my internship had finally begun. Being from Ontario, it was a huge adjustment to travel across the country to the west coast. I had never previously known of the Comox Valley, and was nervous about fitting in with a group of people I didn’t know. Even despite how nervous I was, when I look back I feel like jumping in head-first was really what made this internship so rewarding.

When I arrived at the centre, a few of the volunteers were there to greet me with wide smiles and friendly handshakes. Two interns, Melissa and Kristina, were already part-way through their stay at MARS, however I was still able to get to know them and discover and how alike we were! It is usually rare to find so many people in one place who share your interests, but at MARS I was actually overwhelmed by the number of people with whom I had so much in common. The accommodations at MARS were comfortable, and staff, interns and volunteers were welcoming and supportive. Everyone worked collaboratively to create a positive learning and working environment for one another.

MARS brings people together from all over the world, creating global diversity within a local setting. Though the MARS is one of the smaller wildlife rescue facilities on Vancouver Island and within Canada, it attracts a broad spectrum of interns and guests through online job postings and their website. I became good friends with interns from Australia, Calgary, Switzerland and the Tampa Bay area in just 6-weeks!

The staff at MARS are knowledgeable and are continually keeping up to date the latest breakthroughs in wildlife rehabilitation to ensure the highest quality treatments for their patients. This in turn fosters an environment which supports continual learning and collaboration between wildlife rehabilitation centres nationwide and even globally. Asking questions is encouraged and improves both your knowledge and the overall quality of your experience.

Over the course of this internship I had the privilege of participating in educational programming and fundraising in local communities within the Comox Valley, raising awareness about MARS and teaching important lessons on conservation, wildlife and environmental science to both children and adults. Participating in these programs was an integral but comparatively small part of the internship, as most of an intern’s time is taken up caring for patients. While working at MARS I quickly learned that every day is different. A varying patient load, high species diversity, and young birds often mean long hours, but also promises to be an overwhelmingly rewarding and invaluable experience for someone who dreams of caring for birds and animals in a professional setting. What also makes this internship special is that it provides the rare opportunity to work closely with and rehabilitate native species of birds and animals – some which are typically elusive, like saw-whet owls, kingfishers and great horned owls.

The MARS summer student volunteer/ internship program is an excellent and immersive experience into the field of wildlife rehabilitation, teaching basic rehabilitation skills and ethics for rehabilitating injured and orphaned birds and animals. This internship and the people I’ve met and learned from have brought me closer than I have ever been to reaching my goals. I only hope I was able to contribute enough to express how thankful I am to have worked with the MARS team for such a meaningful cause, and that it will help you reach your goals, too.

To the prospective interns, best of luck and make the most of your time here. It will pass by faster than you think!


Ashlea Veldhoen